We often hear that the Lebanese diaspora has a lot of money and is quite well off. That is the impression that we leave abroad. When I was in France, the stereotype that many seem to attribute with Lebanese is being rich. As my grandma would say: a reputation of richness is better than that of poverty.
But how rich are the Lebanese abroad? How much money do they have in foreign banks? Well, how about we discover the situation in the banking capital of the world: Switzerland. After all, aren’t we the Switzerland of the Middle East?
A fascinating report has surfaced online yesterday detailing information that was “stolen” by Hervé Falciani, a former employee at HSBC Switzerland’s HQ in Geneva. The information dates back from 2007. It encompasses a timeframe of a few months’ worth of transactions across HSBC in Geneva: between November 9th, 2006 and March 31st, 2007.
The information was recently uncovered by French newspaper “Le Monde.” Going over the hundreds of thousands of info has allowed investigative journalists to compile a list of top countries when it comes to clients at HSBC in Switzerland as well as top countries by deposited amounts.
This small country of 10452 squared kilometers and of about than 4 million people has the #11 highest number of clients in the world, ahead of places like Germany, Spain and Canada. Moreover, when it comes to the amount of money that those Lebanese have deposited, Lebanon ranks at #12 with a staggering amount of $4.8 billion of transactions in those 4 months alone. That amount puts Lebanon ahead of countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Cayman Islands.
To assess how big the $4.8 billion amount is, I made a quick search to see the situation of deposits in Lebanese banks. According to this report by the Audi Group Lebanese banks saw a total of $5.8 billion in growth in transactions during 2014.
Sure, the comparison is not entirely sensical, but it still serves to assess exactly how gargantuan an amount Lebanese citizens had at a foreign bank.
Why would Lebanese want that much money in Swiss banks? Well, for starters Swiss banks are known for their secrecy, although that’s ironic at a time like this. The situation in Switzerland, with its stability and neutrality from international conflicts, also permits ease of mind when it comes to such massive amounts as opposed to the volatility of the Lebanese side. Moreover, having such deposits at Swiss banks enables easier access to the European market for possible investments. The date of the information being 2006-2007, however, could have skewed numbers post the July 2006 war although I’d assume the recent situation isn’t exactly much better for investors.
Who are some of the names with money at HSBC in Switzerland? The leaked information has some of those too according to L’Orient Le Jour.
Elias el Murr, son of Metn powerhouse Michel el Murr and former minister of defense, had a staggering amount of $42 million, in accounts which he says date back to before his birth. Mohammad Safadi, the Tripoli MP and former minister has $75 million deposited at HSBC in Switzerland. Meanwhile, former Keserwan MP Georges Frem has about $3.3 million in deposits.
Good for them! Hopefully many of us have that kind of money one day.
Meanwhile, for some food for thought, it’s worth looking at the situation in Lebanon that is scaring away both foreign and Lebanese investors alike. Between detrimental security, poor governance, terrible infrastructure, a non-manageable refugee crisis, wars all around us that always manage to seep in and dead on arrival civil movements, the extent of such news becomes even more important.
What’s sad is that apart from L’Orient Le Jour, no Lebanese newspaper or media outlet has discussed this information or what it could mean. Obviously, because there are no porn stars, no banana songs and no traitorous selfie with no possibility for a “بالصور ” or ” بالفيديو ” headline, this becomes irrelevant.